Update on Specialized IP Courts

 

Tongji

There are a number of developments in China’s efforts to roll out China’s three new specialized IP courts by the end of the year.  Information is being shared at conferences, via weibo (microblog) postings, emails and other media – along with lots of friendly speculation. Here’s our current summation:

Background: On August 31, 2014, the NPC’s Standing Committee enacted a decision to establishing specialized IP courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guanghou.  These courts are intended to be a three year experiment in adjudicating technologically complex cases.  I have previously blogged about this issue on two separate occasions, while other commentators such as He Jing have also offered their analysis.

The roll out of the courts have now entered into a less theoretical stage of implementation.  In addition, other developments, such as the recently concluded Fourth Plenum also influences our understanding of what is going on in this important area, and the potential impact of this experiment on other legal reforms.

At a conference on October 25 that I attended at Tongji University (photo above),  IPR Tribunal Deputy Chief Judge Jin Kesheng 金克胜 updated a large crowd of academics, officials, lawyers and students on how the court was going to develop. . Judge Jin had a long experience as a legal academic, and has often commented on the relationship between IP and other legal developments.

He noted that the SPC is actively drafting a judicial interpretation on the jurisdiction of the courts.   He stated that the three specialized IP courts will adjudicate both first and second instance cases.  They will also adjudicate both civil and administrative matters. Current “three in one” adjudication experiments (combining civil, criminal and administrative jurisdiction) will be largely unaffected.   He referred to the Foruth Plenum several times, and pointed out that the pilot in cross-region jurisdiction in specialized IPR court is a pilot for the future court’s reform in cross-region jurisdiction on other subject matters.

In terms of subject matter jurisdiction, he specifically mentioned that antimonopoly law cases and well-known trademark cases will also be under the jurisdiction of the specialized IPR courts.

Regarding court administration, Judge Jin noted that judges in the specialized IP courts will be higher paid, which is attracting interest from other judges.  He also expected that the courts would have an impact on the professionalism and expertise of the judiciary in IP cases, which is already relatively high.

In the past the courts have used experts, such as examiners from SIPO to assist in technologically complex matters.  In the future, technology experts (技术调查官) will serve as the assistant to the judge. In fact these technology experts are set to be included in the Beijing Specialized IP Court launch, which will take place in the first half of November.   Jin cautioned, however, that judges should avoid replying on the technology experts exclusively.

Jin acknowledged the disappointment many observers had that the NPC had not authorized establishment of a national appellate IP court, such as the CAFC, but had instead decided to establish a pilot project involving intermediate level courts.  The views of several prominent academics were conveyed at a meeting of the Legal Affairs Committee of the NPC on August 7.   Some academics urged a specialized IP court like the CAFC to break the problem of territoriality in IP adjudication while others urged that this court should set the standard for a national appellate court. Judge Jin nonetheless believed that the specialized IP courts are a milestone in China’s IP and legal reforms.

What will be the impact of this self-described experiment? In terms of size of their docket, Guangdong has by far the largest docket. Beijing is second and Shanghai is last. Guangdong is about twice the size of Beijing, and Beijing is a bit more than twice the size of Shanghai.  Beijing, however, has the oversized docket of foreign-related cases and administrative cases. Guangdong has the biggest size and population and its experiment in setting up a provincial level intermediate court could be an important precedent for IP and non-IP related jurisdictional experiments.  The loss of jurisdiction of Shenzhen and other important cities in Guangdong over patent, trade secret and AML matters is likely a significant concern to tech companies there.

Beijing’s continuing role in administrative litigation means that Beijing would be a natural venue for a national appellate IP court, such as the CAFC. Shanghai, with the smallest docket and a relatively modest foreign related docket compared to Beijing may appear to have the least “experimental value.”  However, Shanghai brings several important developments to the table. First it is the home to a large and active foreign business community and an active R&D community, especially in the life sciences. Second, it is home to the important foreign trade zone pilot project, with its own IP tribunal. Third and not least, Shanghai is the home to the Chinese Courts International Exchanges Base for Judicial Protection of Intellectual Property Rights (中国法院知识产权司法保护国际交流(上海)基地) which was opened on September 25, and promises to support a wide range of IPR judicial exchanges and educational efforts.   Since foreigners file more cases in Beijing, the Shanghai IP court will need to work hard to attract IP litigation from Beijing, particularly since the Beijing IP court is likely to continue to have a large foreign-related docket with its jurisdiction over the patent and trademark offices.

The Beijing court has already been sighted by one microblogger, and a picture is available on line: http://www.weibo.com/136766637#_rnd1414651625018.   There have also been numerous postings, emails and rumors about assignments of judges – which I will decline to repeat here. In any event, it is only a matter of weeks before those appointments are officially disclosed.

Prof. Don Clarke in his recent blog on the recently concluded Fourth Plenum noted that there is a proposal to establish courts “that will cross jurisdictional boundaries, again to try cases that are in some sense cross-jurisdictional. Such a proposal would require legislative and possibly constitutional amendments.” The IP courts are part of that initial experiment.    Judge Jin referred to other specialized IP courts and cross boundary proposals, such as in labor and childrens courts. In another related development, Judge Jin also noted that the specialized IP courts will have higher paid, more professional judges – a development consistent with the Fourth Plenum.   –

In sum, these new courts are are a part of the continuing effort to “cross the rule of law river by feeling the IP stones.”

 

SPECIALIZED IP COURTS ABOUT TO LAUNCH IN THREE CITIES – AND ARE THEY GOOD FOR FOREIGNERS?

Recent Chinese efforts at developing specialized IP courts and in promoting greater judicial independence suggest that the system may significantly improve in the years ahead. According to press reports, some of these efforts may take final form at the 10th meeting of the 27th Session of the Chairman’s Council of the 12 Session of NPC Standing Committee which will be held on August 25 through 30. At that meeting, the NPC Standing Committee will review the bill submitted by the Supreme People’s Court which is the Draft Resolution of SPC to Establish IPR Courts in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Why specialized IP courts? On August 12, 2014, Deputy Chief Judge Jin Kesheng (金克胜), of the third civil (IPR) division of the Supreme People’s Court, said: “In recently years, the speed of increasing IP court was grow slow smoothly, however, there are more and more the new style cases and complicated cases involving foreign parties so that these cases were difficult to judge and the attention from the public to these cases were enhanced. The number of case filed at the Supreme Court was increasing, especially in patent cases with more complicated technology and huge market value and interest. Additionally, the administrative cases are growing rapidly, the proportion of cases involving the fields of medicine, electronic, telecommunication patents are increasing. The proportion of cases in competition cases involving network technology and new business models is large, business secrets and counterfeiting cases continue to increase, and the Supreme People’s Court is hearing antimonopoly cases for the first time… Therefore, this year the Central Committee of the Party and some related departments did some investigations with regard to establishing a specialized IP courts…”

 China has had specialized IP tribunals (ting 庭), beginning with an initial experiment in 1993 in Beijing. Currently there are about 3,000 judges in sit these tribunals. In addition, there are 560 tribunals throughout the country, including basic, level, intermediate, high court and supreme people’s court tribunals or divisions.   In recent years, China has been experimenting with more basic courts (e.g. Yi Wu People’s Court and Kun Shan People’s Court) hearing IP cases including patent cases. Historically, these tribunals had sometimes been called “No. 3 Civil Tribunals” (e.g. No.3 Civil Tribunal of Shanghai Higher People’s Court, No.3 Civil Tribunal of Pudong District People’s Court), “No. 5 Civil Tribunals” (No.5 Civil Tribunal of Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People’s Court, No.5 Civil Tribunal of Shanghai No.2 Intermediate People’s Court) or IP Tribunals (IP Tribunal of Zhuhai People’s Court). Increasingly these tribunals may combine civil IP jurisdiction with administrative review and criminal jurisdiction (“three in one tribunals”).

 As civil enforcement is the lion’s share of judicial IP litigation, the civil experience of these judges has in a sense helped also to develop the capacity of China’s judiciary to handle criminal and administrative litigation. In addition, by combining civil, criminal and administrative jurisdiction there is a greater likelihood of consistent handling of matters that may cross jurisdictional boundaries such as use of administrative evidence in civil cases, providing civil compensation in criminal matters, referring administrative or civil matters to criminal litigation, or handling patent and trademark validity matters in conjunction with an ongoing civil case. Today all of these matters may be handled in one tribunal.

 What prior work has been done in this area by the Chinese government? While specialized IPR courts have been talked about for some time, institutional improvements in the IPR tribunals were set forth as a national goal in the Outline of the National IP Strategy (2008) which was coordinated by SIPO. The NIPS stated “Studies need to be carried out on establishing special tribunals to handle civil, administrative or criminal cases involving intellectual property”. The SPC took an important step in this direction in July 2009, when it directed the civil IP tribunals in the Beijing No. 1 Intermediate Court to handle validity matters on appeal from China’s patent and trademark offices. (最高人民法院关于专利、商标等授权确权类知识产权行政案件审理分类的规定).

 The impetus to develop specialized IP courts in China took an even greater leap forward back on November 12, 2013, at the Third Plenum Session of Eleventh Communist Party Central Committee (the “Third Plenum”). The Third Plenum set as a goal to “explore the establishment of intellectual property court(s).” Since that time, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu, Zhengzhou had started to apply for establishing the IP court with the Supreme Court. On March 10, 2014, Zhou Qiang(周强), the President of the SPC discussed the work schedule of 2014 and said that the Supreme Court would promote to establish the specialized IP court. On July 9, 2014, the Supreme Court at its press conference outlining judicial reforms for the Supreme Court (2014-2018) discussed establishing Specialized IP courts at places where IP cases are concentrated. Professor Tao Xinliang (陶鑫良) had proposed establishing the IP Intermediate Court at some places where IP cases concentrated to judge the civil IP cases and administrative IP cases of the first instance and the civil IP cases, administrative IP cases of the second instance and some criminal IP cases. (Prof. Tao Xinliang 陶鑫良<Some thoughts on Establishment of Specialized IP Court建立知识产权法院的若干思考> Madame Tao Kaiyuan (陶凯元) , a Vice President of the Supreme Court, and a former Director General of the Guangdong IP Bureau (where she likely worked with Vice Premier Wang Yang(汪洋)) has also said that the SPC should continue to promote three-in-one IP tribunals.

Why might China be adding a new emphasis on a specialized IP court in additional to combined tribunals? A specialized IP court may promote and improve the civil judicial enforcement system by providing more resources, promote the independence of the judiciary, and provide for more training of judges, particularly on technical patent matters. The judges of a specialized IP court might be even more professional and autonomous. They might be better able to handle the administrative cases, criminal cases and civil cases at the same time. Like other specialized courts (e.g maritime, military, railway court), civil/criminal and administrative jurisdiction would also combined, reflecting the subject matter expertise of the judges in that court and likely reducing subject matter and venue conflicts for IP litigation.

 The SPC has not yet published the detailed program for implementation of specialized IP courts. In addition, we have heard little about important areas of the IP tribunals’ jurisdiction which are not as directly related to IP, such as antimonopoly law, unfair competition and licensing, and whether these areas will also remain within the specialized court jurisdiction. We assume they will be, and would actually hope that other IP-related areas could be specifically included (such as consumer protection, substandard products, and geographical indications). However, we have seen nothing to date discussing these areas.

Will a specialized IPR court be good for foreigners? Most foreign rights holders have continuing concern with local protectionism and political influence in IP adjudication. Beijing, which appears to be a focus for development of a specialized IP court is the jurisdiction that appears to hear the most foreign cases. As we have previously blogged, foreign parties are involved in approximately 47% of their administrative appeal docket (which is primarily based in Beijing); or about 1349 cases, nearly equal to the number of infringement cases in 2013 of 1429. Hopefully, giving the Beijing courts more independence and confirming their “three in one” approach will provide greater judicial autonomy for the Beijing courts.

One concern is whether specialized IP courts will indeed function in a more independent manner than IP tribunals. The US experience with our specialized national patent court, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, has generally been that the CAFC has some impact on correcting local biases at the trial court level, including possible anti-foreign jury bias. This is borne out by data which shows that in general, reversal rates in favor of foreigners is higher at the CAFC than reversal rates in favor of domestic entities.

 U.S.: Patent Infringement Civil Litigation Appellate Win Rates

 

Overall

Foreign Companies

Patent Owner Win Rate

25%

27%

Accused Infringer Win Rate

75%

78%

Source:Paul M. Janicke & LiLan Ren, Who Wins Patent Infringement Cases?, 34 AIPLA Q.J. 1 (2006).

However, according to data from the CIELA database (www.ciela.cn), second instance patent appeals in China generally show an inclination to support the Chinese domestic party against the foreigner.

China : Invention Patent Litigation Data

 

All Plaintiff

Foreign

Domestic

1st instance win rate

73%

78%

72%

2nd instance win rate

52%

40%

52%

Overturn rate

19%

30%

17%

Mean compensation

RMB 439,614

RMB 230,827

RMB 525,939

Medium compensation

RMB 100,000

RMB 125,000

RMB 100,000

Duration

8.2m

11.8m

6.9m

(Courtesy of Tim Smith of Rouse & Co. )

Why might appellate IP courts or tribunals behave differently in each country? First, the CAFC is a national court, not a regional or local court. In this sense, it may be more accountable to national law and reputation than local courts. The CAFC under former Chief Judge Rader had in fact been a leading global proponent of national specialized IP courts. Second, the CAFC has a different jurisdictional role. It does not retry cases, rather it hears appeals. In addition, it hears both patent validity and infringement matters in one court. Moreover, its decisions on matters of law are binding on lower courts. As such, it has more authority in deciding legal matters, and in instructing lower courts on proper adjudication. For example, the CAFC had taken an active role in addressing venue issues at the E.D Texas on patent litigation issues. A third reason is found in China’s political situation. In general, Chinese courts are much less independent than US courts. Local Chinese courts, particularly in remote areas, may also tend to be even less accountable to national law and policy. Second instance Chinese courts may be more susceptible to receiving national policy directives and may therefore be more susceptible to national political influence in adjudicating disputes. Moreover, local statutes enacted by local people congress are at a higher political hierarchy than national administrative rules (部门规章). The local political congresses that enact these statutes also appoint judges. When a second instance case is heard, for example, in a provincial high court, there may in fact be a problem of more direct political influence through political actors in the provincial capital.

The limited data available to date suggests to me that while specialized IP courts have promise, their potential impact will also be affected by national judicial reform efforts and may continue to be constrained by existing limitations in the political independence of the Chinese judicial structure. As Susan Finder has noted in her blog, there are several efforts under way to address some of these systemic issues in the Chinese judicial system, which may also bear promise for Chinese IP adjudication. In sum, specialized IP courts may not be the panacea that foreigners might otherwise seek in minimizing anti-foreign bias in local adjudication in China, but I do believe they offer some hope for a better and stronger judiciary.

 By Mark Cohen, with Ms. Yao Yao of Fordham Law School (LLM Candidate, 2015).